After a drawn-out custody battle or fight over property in a divorce, the judge may issue a final judgment to conclude the case. However, if you disagree with the result or the way your case was handled, there may be an opportunity to appeal the family court's decision. Appeals are generally an uphill battle but they can be won. Talk to your experienced North Carolina family law attorney about how to appeal your case and your options for changing the court orders.
What is an Appeal of a Family Court Decision?
After the trial court issues a final order, either party can file a Notice of Appeal with the North Carolina Court of Appeals within 30 days of receipt of the final order. The appeals process is very different from the trial court divorce process. There are specific court rules for the appeals court and the standard of review for appeals is much higher than in trial court.
The Court of Appeals is not a chance to re-litigate your case. The Court of Appeals will not hold a new trial and may only review the trial court records and the legal briefs submitted in support of the appeal. The Court of Appeals will generally not hear new arguments that were not brought up in the trial court or new evidence that was not introduced at trial. The Court of Appeals may not even hear oral arguments and will only decide the case on the written record and arguments submitted.
If the Court of Appeals agrees with the trial court, the petitioner's case will be denied and the original order will remain in place. If the Court of Appeals agrees with the petitioner and overturns the trial court's decision on an issue, the issue may go back down to the trial court to be decided again. It could result in a different decision or could be decided with the same original outcome.
Should I Appeal the Family Court Decision?
Even if you are not happy with the family court decision, you may decide appealing the case is not the right course of action. Filing an appeal is more complicated and can be very expensive and time-consuming. It may also be frustrating for the petitioner who does not get a chance to plead their case before judges when the panel of judges decides the case only on the written record.
Another reason to reconsider filing an appeal is that the District Court judges are given a lot of discretion in deciding cases. A Court of Appeals panel will generally not overturn the case just because they would have decided the case differently. There are limited grounds for overturning the lower court, including:
- Lack of jurisdiction,
- Abuse of discretion,
- Failure to follow statutory mandates and procedures, or
- Insufficiency of evidence to support the trial court's conclusion.
Talk to your North Carolina family law attorney about whether or not you may want to file an appeal. There may be other options, including post-judgment modifications, to change court orders after the judge has issued a decision.
Appealing or Changing Parenting Agreements
A parenting agreement entered into between the parents, through negotiation or mediation, may be very difficult to appeal or cancel. However, child custody and support orders can generally be modified after they are entered.
The court generally considers these agreements to be made by the parties and will hold each party to their agreement. However, if there was a problem with the process or the agreement was not voluntarily entered into, then there may be grounds to void the agreement. Possible reasons to not enforce the agreement may include:
- The mediator refused the individual's request to have an attorney review the agreement before signing;
- One party threatened the other if they did not sign;
- The agreement included some illegal or criminal actions; or
- The agreement was never signed by the other party or the other signature was forged.
Post-Judgment Modification of Custody or Child Support Orders
It is generally an easier process to request a modification of the child custody order or parenting plan. The court may agree to a post-judgment modification where there has been a “substantial and material change in circumstances.” There is no set definition of what a substantial and material change is and it will be up to the discretion of the judge handling the case.
Some examples that may justify a parenting order modification may include:
- Loss of a job and/or income;
- Changes in income;
- Cohabitating with a new spouse;
- Increased cost of living; and
- Dramatic lifestyle changes.
Contact Caulder & Valentine to schedule a consultation and learn more about post-judgment modification actions in North Carolina.
North Carolina Divorce Attorneys
If you have any questions about appealing final divorce orders in North Carolina, contact the Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC. Contact us online or by phone at 704-470-2440 today for a consultation.